The Fear of a New Direction

 Which way should I go?
When I was a young boy in Orlando, we would build forts in the woods beyond our home.  Of course, if you were part of the gang, you knew the pitfalls and traps we laid out for those who would dare trespass into our lair.  We had sticker bushes tied back so if you walked down the path and tripped the string, you got brushed with sharp points.  We dug holes and filled them with the stuff in the backyard if you owned a dog (no further picture needs to be shown) and sharp sticks in them as well.  It is amazing I grew up to be a minister!  However, if you knew the path, these would be no problem. We know the stories of men who would rather drive around for hours instead of stopping and asking for directions.  We also know the joke that heaven will have fewer men than women because most men would not stop and ask directions to heaven.  I even argue with my GPS on the dash of my car, resisting its instructions and tempted to toss it out the window.
Our plans meet headlong into reality
We all have expectations and plans for how we expect our life to go.  We plan our weddings, college, and a career spanning decades with the plan to retire to sunny Florida.  But things sometimes get in the way.  Children, sickness, financial woes, and business failures can cause us to have to re-direct our plans and courses.
In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.  Proverbs 16:9 NIV

God has a greater purpose and if we trust him and not fear his decisions we might find ourselves doing things which would seem impossible.  My goal from college was to complete graduate school and work to earn the designation of CHA or certified hotel administrator.  I would travel the world and manage some great hotels.  And then God showed up one year after college and I knew I needed to be doing something for him.

The fear of God changing my plans kept me arguing with him for three years.  In four weeks I will have the chance to do something I never thought possible–pray before the West Virginia Senate.  Fear has a way of keeping us from great opportunities.  Heroism is not about extraordinary men and women doing heroic things but ordinary men and women doing their best in the face of great obstacles.

Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.
Proverbs 19:21 NIV

Do I Really Matter–The Fear of Insignificance

Searching for my significance 

When I was in high school I pledged for a club called Civitan.  Civitan was THE club at Oak Ridge High School and our pledge class had nearly thirty pledges which eclipsed most of the other service clubs entire roster.  We were a service organization to help our school community and the surrounding area around Oak Ridge.  For a kid who felt like a fly on the wall, if I got into Civitan I would be considered one of the “ins” instead of the “outs”.  One of the activities we needed to do to show our commitment to the club was to sell Krispy Kreme donuts and I thought if I sold a bunch they would think I would be an asset to the group.  I went out the weekend before and sold sixty dozen donuts.  When I turned my order in, the club president asked who sold the sixty donuts and I proudly raised my hand.  When pledge time was over, I got my gold and blue Civitan pin and now I had gained significance.  But this feeling did not last very long because others did not think I was so significant.  My gold pin didn’t mean much to parents, teachers, and other kids.  To them, I was still Steve. 

Do I really matter?

In the 1 Corinthians 12:14 passage in The Message, they use the word significant to describe how each member of the body of Christ is important.  In fact, Paul said God has arranged each part of the body of Christ exactly as he chooses.  I am not significant because I have a certain role/responsibility as a pastor/chaplain, but I am significant because I am an equal part of the entire body of Christ in its creation.  John says to us who have believed:
Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. John 1:12 and 13 (NIV)
By God’s personal will, he has “born” me and I am his.  I really do matter to him as a loving father to his child.
And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.
Matthew 10:30-32 (NIV)

Even though I have significantly less hair than in high school, I know God does care for me–a matter of significant importance to him.  You see, God pledged his Son for my redemption and Jesus paid the cost which is significantly more than a box of donuts.

Why Does Evil succeed?

The age old question for those who follow after God and his Son is: “Why do evil people thrive and succeed and the righteous seem to suffer?”  As a new believer in my twenties, I found Psalm 37:4 and it told me to delight in God and he would give me the desires of my heart.  But in the verses preceding this one it says:

Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers, for they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb. Trust in the Lord, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.

How does a believer trust in the Lord and the good living as secure people in a crooked and perverse world?  As I was driving and praying on Sunday I noticed on the left side of the highway as I headed north a bunch of dark storm clouds approaching over the Ohio hills.  On the right side of my car over the state of West Virginia, a blue and cloudless sky. It was if God was reminding me like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress by  John Bunyon, we travel the same road towards the Celestial City we call Heaven.  Like Christian, when we get our eyes on different circumstances and evil people, we lead ourselves farther away from God.  The answer is knowing where to put my eyes.  The God who stirs up the whirlwind is the one who sends the gentle breeze soothing a sweat-filled brow.  The God who sends the tumult of a storm is the God sending gentle rain waking sleeping plants from their winter’s nap.

If we focus on the actions, activities, and successes of those who flaunt God’s reign, our attitude becomes angry, bitter, and maybe even jealous of their success.  We wonder why God allows them to prosper and the righteous to suffer.  In doing this, we forget what verse three says:  Trust, Do, Live and Enjoy!!! Those who practice evil will dry up like the spring grasses of Israel hit by the dry winds which shrivel up the grass and flowers.  If we trust in his provisioning, does it REALLY matter what the evil person gains?  If we are doing good for the purpose of the Kingdom, should it PREVENT our joy by continuing to follow his plans?  If we are envious of the successes of evil ones, are really ENJOYING the life he has for me?

Thirty years ago my desire was to be the only Mentzer family member to graduate college.  I had no awareness of His plans for me.  If I had just kept my eyes on the financial rewards of the unbelievers around me, I would never know the joy of serving him.  My desires have changed from personal desires to what he desires.  I am not going to worry about the storm clouds which will come because I am trusting in the one who controls it all.

Do You Hate Dirty Windows?

Traveling around as a chaplain I find dirty windows get on my final nerve.  There have been times I have pulled over in a parking lot to clean the streaks, filth, or road grime which accumulated on my windows.  When sunlight hits the window at just the right angle it adds to the glare and distorts my vision further.  During the winters we struggle with a brine solution the road departments place down to help with clearing snowy roads. It gets splashed on your windows from the vehicles in front and you go through gallons of washer fluid keeping the windows clear.  I have tried a myriad of cleaners and solutions to get them as clean as possible.  I have used baking soda or soda pop to neutralize the road acids. I have made solutions of ammonia, vinegar, Dawn and newspapers to get them clean.  Of course, I have purchased the stand-by Windex or other glass cleaners, but still, the windows remain streaked.  Nothing I do gets them completely clean!

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”

Matthew 6:22-23 NIV

Jesus sandwiches this passage amid his teaching on the Mount.  The listeners are common people with the common concerns of daily life. Food, shelter, clothing are just some of the problems on their minds.  Now fast forward two-thousand years and our needs have not changed much.  We strive just like those Jesus taught for these and even more and as we strive for more and more our eyes become cloudy.  Our eyesight changes from healthy to unhealthy as we changed the direction of our eyes.  It becomes a slippery slope when the peace promised by the angel over Bethlehem disappears as we seek things and not Him. Jesus asked those to consider the darkness which comes from unhealthy eyes.  In John 1:5 NIV, John tells us that God is light and there is absolutely no darkness in Him.  As our eyes become unhealthy, what happens to our view of God?  Our thoughts of God, faith, Jesus, church become clouded from our dirty eyes.  The distortion increases until we can no longer see clearly.  Peace is replaced with strife, confusion, and dismay as the things we seek cannot fill the hole in our souls like God did. The solution to the problem of our streak-filled windows (eyes)–the right cleaning solution–pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, just like others who have a pure heart.

“In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use. Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work. Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.

2 Timothy 2:20-22 NIV

We need to pull over, stop and change directions! We may also need to change posture from standing to kneeling as we turn back to HIM.   Focus on what God has called us for–to live unparalleled lives in him.  He has called the weak things of this world to glorify him by actions, words, and worship.  The things which distort our vision may be the very things we need.  But, do we need God more?

My 60 Year Inventory

Well, today I am sixty years young and I wanted to review my life and see what God has done over these many years.  Reflections help remind us not only of our missteps but also our triumphs. So, here goes!

Today, I have more hair than when I was born. The Bible says God knows the number of hairs on my head and I realize since my 30’s God knew subtraction since my head looks like the bottom of a newborn baby.

As a child, my friends consisted of kids in my neighborhood: Donnie Dixon, Holly Whitmore, Vicki Trumble, Theresa McGovern, and a few more.  Then school started and friendships increased.  Those friends have moved on or moved away yet I have a Friend who is closer than a brother.  I met Jesus in the back of a Chinese restaurant in Norfolk, Virginia when I was twenty-six and he is still with me thirty-four years later.

Though I was not able to start college till I was twenty-seven, God led me in ways I never expected.
Since my first job was washing dishes I found myself was drawn to the hospitality industry and it was here I got my Bachelors degree. Waking up a year after graduation, I sensed “I need to be doing something for God”.  I went back to graduate school to work in Christian camps or retreats but a friend shared God had a call on my life.  For three years He did not relent and I surrendered to pastoral ministry and had the pleasure of serving God’s people for twenty-six years.

Once a loner, I now have an extended family of brothers and sisters in Chris.  Two of those are Vicki, my wife of seventeen years and our daughter, Stefani. God did not stop there and gave me a mother-in-law and sister-in-law to care for since Vicki’s dad had passed away.  Caring for them fulfills a promise I made to care for my own mom but was unable by the time she had passed away.  With both of my parents gone I have a woman in my house who spoils  Stefani and made sure Stefani never had a babysitter.  She has infused Stefani with her life and love and Stefani is richer because of it.

I have had my heart broken and I have done the same to others. To those, I am grievously sorrowful. I, like David of the Bible, have those sins before my eyes.  While I cannot forget them I know he has forgiven them.  The angst we feel because of what we have done gives us cause to stop and think before we go down that same road.

This inventory does not mean the end of my life but a poignant reminder He will still be with me the rest of my life and beyond.  Vicki and I have a new ministry and future plans to travel.  No matter what, God will be with us.  Happy Birthday to me.